Notable Slaves Who Helped Build Our Country

Enough can not be said about the sacrifice slaves gave to our country.  Without all of the stolen labor, the United States of American would have never built the wealth that it did.  Historians and scholars debate the percentage of slaves who were Muslims, but most agree that somewhere between 10 to 30 percent of slaves who were brought to America were Muslims. The event of transporting Muslim slaves was made famous by the book by Alex Haley, Roots.

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Ayuba Suleiman (b. 1701 and d. 1773), also known as Job Solomon, was born in Senegal, was believed to have come from a prominent Muslim family. He was captured and sold as a slave, then shipped to Annapolis, Maryland. Ayuba was known to have known how to read and write Arabic, refuse wine when it was offered to him, and to have fled from his slave owners home when a child made fun of him when he prayed.  He was later purchased by a man named Oglethorpe.  In England, a man named Hans Sloane, who made him a translator, and Ayuba translated a number of Arabic documents for the British Museum.  He was given a high status when he was made a member of the Gentleman’s Society of Spalding. Unfortunately, he was captured as a slave again by the French just before he passed away. Ayuba’s memoirs were published by a friend of his, Rev. Thomas Bluett, who had helped him gain his freedom.

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Sambo Anderson, also referred to as Uncle Sambo or Samuel Anderson, was one of George Washington’s most coveted slaves.  Purchased around 1750, he was trained as a carpenter, and built and repaired several wooden structures at Mt. Vernon. George Washington was known to allow his slaves autonomy to keep their own religion and even gave Sambo permission to use his boat to go visit his family at a neighboring farm.  Other slaves, by the name of Fatima and Nila were also believed to have been slaves on Washington’s property as well, and may have been related to Sambo.  Washington gave his slaves their freedom upon his death in his will.  (I find it interesting that it is an Islamic tradition to free one’s slaves upon your death.)  As a free man, he hunted and sold wild game.  He was able to earn enough money to purchase the freedom of some of his family members, including his daughter, Charity, and several of his grand children.  When Uncle Sambo, when himself had passed away, an obituary was written about him in the Alexandria Gazette. 

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Yarrow Mamout was a promenant figure in Georgetown in the early 1800’s. Mamout worked as a bricklayer, but was also known to have made money making charcoal, weaving baskets, and loading ships. He was freed when he was 60 years old and believed to have owned his own home on Dent Place in Georgetown, where he believed to be buried. Mamout was known to have swam in the Potomac River for exercise, have never consumed alcohol or pork, and to have walked the streets of Georgetown singing praises of Allah. His portrait is on display at the Georgetown Library.

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Omar Ibn Said was known as a slave of General Owen in North Carolina.  He wrote 14 manuscripts in Arabic.  One of them was the biography of his life, which was written in communication with Sheikh Hunter. However, several others were inscriptions of Qur’anic text, which he had memorized before becoming a slave. Francis Scott Key was known to have given Ibn Said a bible in Arabic. His owners were also known to have given him a Qur’an in English to help him learn English.  Although many claim that he converted to Christianity, some others say he may have been a Mason, or have even continued to practice Islam afterwards. Today, his manuscripts are stored in the Wilson Library at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

  1. What kinds of jobs did many slaves of early days of America have?
  2. Why was it a benefit to have been able to read and write if you were a slave?
  3. How is Omar Ibn Said similar to another prominent slave, Bilali Muhammad?
  4. Which of the slaves mentioned were known to have had family?
  5. What kinds of Islamic traditions did these slaves try to preserve?

 

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The Wahab and Farrow Family Legends of The Outer Banks of North Carolina

The outer banks of North Carolina are barrier islands full of rich history.  You may have heard of, or even been to, Cape Hatteras, Roanoke Island, or Ocracoke.  These islands are known for their pirate history.  During the early 1700’s, pirates used these islands as their stomping grounds. Even though these pirates were a threat to the colonial exports, colonial governors did not crack down on them because they often received kickbacks from the pirates themselves.  In 1718, England decided to wage war against the pirates.  One of the most famous battles from that war was the battle between Blackbeard and Lt. Robert Maynard.  In this battle, Lt. Maynard killed Blackbeard and hung his head from the mast of his boat.

The Wahab family has a rich history on  Ocracoke Island. However, no one is really sure how the Wahab family came to live there.  Of course the Wahab name sounds very Arab, with Wahab being one of Allah’s 99 names. The legends have it that the family is descended from an Arab who was washed ashore after a pirate ship wrecked in a storm.  In an interview with Myra Wahab, Dr. Zogby reported that Mrs. Wahab exclaimed that the name was Arab and that the family was very proud of their Arab heritage. However, other Wahab descendants have used DNA tests to prove that the name is in fact Scott Irish, and trace their name to a version of the Celtic name, “Wauchopes.”

From http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news022115.htm:
A 2005 National Park Service publication, Ethnohistorical Description of the Eight Villages adjoining Cape Hatteras National Seashore and Interpretive Themes of History and Heritage, addresses the legends about the Outer Banks Arabic heritage:

“Another famous castaway was known as ‘Pharaoh Pharaoh,’ ‘Pharaoh Farrow,’ or simply, ‘that A-rab.’ This man was the founder of the ‘Farrow family’ who emerged from the wreck of the Prince of India in 1737 (MacNeill 1958, 67). Although there is ‘no documented record that the Prince of India ever existed,’ it held as its cargo an archetype of Outer Bank origins: Arabian horses (MacNeill 1958, 65). The horses and ‘two Arabian youths’ are said to have washed ashore on the north end of Ocracoke, giving Bankers their first wild ponies. One of the youths ‘must have been Egyptian,’ as an itinerant clergyman named him ‘Pharaoh.’ This youth was later known as ‘King Pharaoh,’ as he came to own much land and numerous slaves, ‘all of whom had been brought here by storms’ (MacNeill 1958, 67). The other youth, simply known as ‘A-rab,’ ‘A-hab,’ and later ‘Wahab,’ is cited as the founder of the Wahab family of Ocracoke.

The writer of the villagecraftsman.com website writes about the mystery of the Wahab and Farrow family names and the research he did to attempt to determine the origin of the name.  He writes that a member of the Wahab family wrote showed him a letter written by Eugenia Wahab Hill, who died in 1926, that stated: “the first Wahab (so the story goes) was supposed to have been sent from Arabia by the reining monarch to establish Mohammedanism in the country. The boat was wrecked in a storm off Ocracoke, where he was washed ashore on a piece of the wrecked ship.”

Another explanation is that the settlers of the outer banks of North Carolina are actually descendants of the lost colony of Roanoke. Of course, I’ve already discussed this story and the fact that John White reported that 200 Moors were on his ship as slaves.

There seems to be too much coincidences to ignore this story. We know many European pirates had converted to Islam, that the Barbary Coast was famous for its piracy, that many pirates used the North Carolina outer bank islands as stomping grounds, that several legends of Arabs landing on these islands have been told in family traditions, and that names like Wahab and Farrow were used.  The fact of the matter is that little is known about the pirates that dominated that area. It seems unusual, however, that one of the largest superpowers of the time, would not have a least a few Muslims land in the Americas.

  1. What are the names of the islands of the outer banks of North Carolina?
  2. Why were pirates able to use the outer banks of North Carolina as stomping grounds?
  3. Why is it not unlikely that the Wahabs and Farrows could have in fact been Muslims or Arabs?